The most common student rental scams: warning over deposits and keys

Try out the key and view property in person before transferring money, students told

From left, Karina Timothy, Galway Regional Services Manager, Threshold, Lorna Fitzpatrick, President, USI and Aideen Hayden, Chairperson, Threshold, as Threshold and USI have called on the Government to implement Protect our Deposits: a deposit protection scheme to safeguard rental deposits and protect tenants in the private rented sector against scams. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

From left, Karina Timothy, Galway Regional Services Manager, Threshold, Lorna Fitzpatrick, President, USI and Aideen Hayden, Chairperson, Threshold, as Threshold and USI have called on the Government to implement Protect our Deposits: a deposit protection scheme to safeguard rental deposits and protect tenants in the private rented sector against scams. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

 

Accommodation-hunting students must insist on viewing properties in person, and on trying out front-door keys to ensure they work, before paying rent or a deposit, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has warned.

Lorna Fitzpatrick, USI president, described the most common ruses used to part students, often in desperate need of rental accommodation, from large sums of money.

“One of the most common scams is where a property is advertised, with photos, by someone who either doesn’t own it or where it doesn’t even exist. They’ll take calls from students and say they’re either out of the country or just really busy, but tell the students that if they send them the deposit they’ll hold the property for them. Then, after they’ve taken four or five people’s deposits their phone is disconnected and there’s no way of reaching them or of getting the deposits back.

“We have heard of cases where people turn up at the door, with all their things, thinking they’re moving in only to find out the property was never available.”

In other cases, said Ms Fitzpatrick, students have paid deposits, met someone posing as a landlord or agent to collect keys, only to find the keys do not work and the person who gave them the key is no longer contactable. She said these incidents were happening across the country, adding students who had not previously had to navigate the rental market could be particularly susceptible to fraud.

“We always advise people: view the property in person to make sure it exists; try out the front-door key in the lock to ensure it works; always pay rent and deposit by cheque or electronic fund transfer so you have some proof of payment – never pay in cash. If you can, carry out some communication by email so you can refer to that communication later if needed, and, always get a lease or written contract.”

The USI is supporting the call, from housing charity Threshold, for a national deposit protection scheme.

The two organisations want the State to establish a legal definition of rental deposits and to limit these deposits to the value of one month’s rent.

A tenancy deposit protection scheme, which would see a third party hold deposits paid to landlords, was proposed under the 2015 Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act. However, the legislation enforcing this scheme has not yet been implemented.

The charity said a lack of guidelines around how much a landlord may request as a deposit means some tenants are being expected to pay two or more months’ rent upon moving into a property, an outlay of some €4,000 in some cases in Dublin or €2,500 in Cork. It said these costs are out of reach for many and result in people entering in debt or unable to pay their bills.

Threshold chairwoman Aideen Hayden said successive governments had committed to addressing the illegal retention of deposits by landlords since 2011 through a holding system operated by the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).